Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the First [Apr 2014]
“Alleys are the most frequent type of ROAD in a CITY or TOWN. They are always narrow and dark and squishy, and they frequently dead-end. You will escape along them when pursued and also be AMBUSHED there.
See also REFUSE and SQUALOR.”
—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones
AT THE TAIL end of 2013, we were fortunate to have the World Fantasy Convention over here in the UK — we don’t have that many conventions in these ‘ere parts, and thus each one tends to be a pretty special occasion, especially if I can attend, me being a domesticated family man an’ all that.
Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s the same in the US, but invariably most authors and artists you meet at these Cons are also fellow fans and readers, and this seems particularly true in what I loosely term, ‘the fantasy/SF genre’ and by that I’m encompassing a whole gamut of titles covering science-fiction, fantasy, horror, comics/graphic novels, steampunk, historical fantasy, faerie tale myths, etc. ‘Tis fair to say that the majority of attendees are also practicing and/or would-be writers (like myself), and although many are looking for that elusive opportunity to ‘make a sale’ we are all, at heart, a lovely bunch of people, frankly.
Conventions are also extremely handy places for picking up free books, chatting to authors, and drinking a lot of alcohol, and combinations thereof, so I was lucky enough to nab a few ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) while I was there, and of course a wee bit of gossip, or is that gospel…
At time of writing, Joanne M Harris’ The Gospel of Loki (Gollancz) is due for release across both sides of the pond, and is dubbed “the first adult epic fantasy novel from bestselling author, Joanne Harris” — in truth it’s more of a brilliant selection of Viking/Norse myths as told from Loki’s point of view, and the trickster god has unflattering opinions about everything and everyone, especially his fellow gods and goddesses. He’s also hilarious, and the author’s tone throughout is both easy-going and conversational. I absolutely loved reading this, and chuckled throughout, so am pretty sure it’ll prove a sensational hit upon its release.
Now for those not already aware, last January saw the release of Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell, a marvellous tale about “an uplifted primate who uses obnoxiousness to hide his loneliness” (straight from the author’s mouth, that, btw) — to clarify, it concerns a cynical, one-eyed, cigar chomping monkey who happens to be an ace Spitfire pilot from an alternative 1944 in which German ninjas parachuting into the UK are considered target practice. Oh, there are also nuclear-powered zeppelins, electronic souls and the British monarchy on the run. Go figure.
I found at earlier this week (late January) that Ack-Ack Macaque (Solaris) has also been shortlisted for a 2013 Best Novel award by members of the British Science Fiction Association — more about this next month, when I’ll be covering what I like to refer to as the Early British Awards Season…
Anyway, the sequel to Ack-Ack is Hive Monkey (also from Solaris — available now) and this time around our beloved monkey gets involved in a struggle against homicidal cavemen, time-hopping terrorists, and an extremely dangerous hive mind. Don’t go figure, just go buy it… like, today, and enjoy some happy-happy times while you’re about it.
Another huge hit (and freebie) at the Brighton World Fantasy Convention was Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise (Headline), also due for release in Feb 2014. This is a classic fantasy adventure reminiscent of bygone days but with a refreshing twist of style and substance, and has already been garnering great praise and some talk of award nomination. Jennifer herself has been blogging for a number of years (http://www.sennydreadful.co.uk) and in that time built an impressive army of fans who adore her writing, among them a slew of fellow fantasy writers, so this is definitely one to seek out if you like your fantasy suitably fantastic.
One of my personal highlights of 2013 was an obscure selection of short books from Den Patrick, the so-called War Fighting Manuals (published by Gollancz and widely available now), and covering Orcs, Elves, and Dwarves.
This is a delightful illustrated collection of easily digestible source material for any budding author. The author has given you all the tools you need including history, maps, mythology and plenty of amusing, cringe-worthy footnotes from noted (fictional) Anthropologist Royal, Sebastian Venghaus. Treat yourself if you can, ‘cos these are real little gems, in handy novella-size packaging and each features an extended battle report from all sides of the conflict.
Finally, I recently had cause to revisit a classic Ray Bradbury novel, The Martian Chronicles (available almost everywhere). Published a few years before Fahrenheit 451 and many other classic Bradbury works, it’s an excellent example of a man learning his craft and — significantly for me — shows the author in his purest form. As avant-garde and brilliant as The Martian Chronicles may have been back in its day, there are numerous forays into classic “telling not showing” territory and on more than a few occasions Bradbury also descends into bloated, wildly overwritten prose — now I know they were paid by the word back then, but both of these are considered poor writing habits nowadays, so I do wonder if Bradbury would have been frowned upon had he submitted to a modern market. How times change, eh?
* This column originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of BTS Book Reviews